By DAVID MERCER
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) â¿¿ Illinois' unemployment rate increased for a second straight month in February, spiking to 9.5 percent, the state Department of Employment Security said Thursday.
That's the highest unemployment rate seen in the state since 2011 and gives Illinois one of the highest unemployment rates in the country at a time when the national jobs picture is improving. Nationwide unemployment fell last month to 7.7 percent.
State officials blame the increase in part on increasing numbers of people who've been spurred to resume job searches by positive economic news. Even with the state adding a net 12,400 jobs for the month, the number of unemployed people in Illinois â¿¿ limited in the state's monthly report to those without a job who are actively looking for work â¿¿ the number of unemployed people still rose by 34,900 to 629,400.
"There's no doubt that some of this is tied directly to people who previously did not believe that they would be able to find work so they chose not to look for work," department spokesman Greg Rivara said.
But private-sector experts said it's far from good news.
"The last two months have produced some sobering news for the Illinois job market," said John Challenger, CEO of Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc. "It seems to be running counter to the more positive news nationally, and should raise concerns about the business environment, the labor environment here."
February unemployment rates aren't available for every state yet, but based on January's numbers Illinois would be among the worst. Only five states had unemployment rates of 9.5 percent or higher, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: California, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina and Rhode Island.
Illinois last had unemployment rates at 9.5 percent or higher in the summer of 2011.